Cancer Types

Lung Cancer

Information about lung cancer.

What are lungs?

Your lungs are in your chest and are protected by your rib cage. They supply oxygen to your body.

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer begins when abnormal cells grow in an uncontrolled way in one or both lungs.

Types of lung cancer:

  • Small-cell lung cancer
  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Other rare types of lung cancer


There is no certain way to prevent lung cancer, but there are some things you can do that may reduce your chances of getting it. These include:

  • Not smoking, and if you do smoke, quitting as soon as possible
  • Avoiding second-hand smoking (smoke from other people's cigarettes, cigars or pipes)
  • Avoiding asbestos
  • Avoiding exposure to cancer-causing agents e.g. asbestos, radon, diesel exhaust and air pollution

See Healthy Living for more information on prevention.

Who can be affected by lung cancer?

People who smoke tobacco or smoked in the past are at the highest risk for lung cancer. But anyone can get lung cancer - one in five people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked.

The chance of developing lung cancer increases with age.

Risk factors

Anything that can increase your risk is called a risk factor. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop lung cancer.

The risk factors for lung cancer are:

  • Smoking, especially if you began smoking when young, smoked for a long period of time or were a heavy smoker
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • History of lung disease, e.g. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • History of cancer
  • Exposure to cancer-causing agents e.g. asbestos, radon, diesel exhaust and air pollution

Signs and symptoms

There may be no warning signs that you have lung cancer. Some signs and symptoms may include:

  • A cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain or shoulder pain
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • A hoarse voice
  • Lots of lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Coughing up blood
  • A chest infection that will not go away
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant tiredness

If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately. Many other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it's best to get them checked out.

Finding lung cancer early

Lung cancer is a difficult cancer to find early. It is important to talk about any of your symptoms with your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor can arrange the tests to assess your symptoms.

Testing and diagnosis

Doctors will listen to your chest for anything unusual. They may arrange further tests such as:

  • Sputum test (coughing up mucus or phlegm into a little container)
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan or PET-CT scan

The doctor may also refer you to a specialist to do further tests, such as a bronchoscopy. This is when a small tube with a camera attached is inserted through your nose to look inside the airways that lead to your lungs. You may be referred for a lung biopsy.


The treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and stage (how far it has spread), the location of the tumour and your general health and preferences.

Treatment options may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Other treatment options may also be offered.

Helpful websites

Lung Foundation New Zealand

Cancer Society - Understanding Lung Cancer booklet


Asthma & Respiratory Foundation NZ - Lung Cancer

Auckland Radiation Oncology - Understanding Lung Cancer

eviQ Australia

Health Navigator NZ - Lung Cancer

Healthpoint - Information on radiation therapy side effects

For those in the Northern regions

Healthpoint – Northland DHB Blood and Cancer Service

Healthpoint – Whānau Ora Navigation Cancer Care Service, a tautoko/support service for Māori and whānau

Healthpoint – Counties Manukau DHB Lung Cancer information